Written by Anthony Toto
“You can’t deny, the house of cards just hit the floor,” Myles Kennedy relentlessly asserts on Alter Bridge’s single “Addicted To Pain,” foreshadowing the band’s heaviest offering to-date with their new studio album, Fortress.
From the ashes of previous bands and successes, Alter Bridge spent the last decade building an uncompromising style of guitar-driven hard rock packed with contagious melodies and soaring vocal performances.
“Fortress” showcases the band ignoring the status quo by embracing a metal direction and churning out longer songs filled with complex riffs, virtuosic guitar solos, and progressive performances from each band member.
In a stale state of modern rock where bands achieve commercial radio airplay rehashing redundantly bland post-grunge, Alter Bridge prides itself as one of the few modern bands with a heavy metal dynamic receiving airplay on mainstream radio stations.
From top to bottom, Fortress is an adventurous heavy metal album filled with inspiring musicality and high quality songwriting. Maintaining the core elements of their past while pursuing heavier territories, the band created the best offering of its career.
In an exclusive interview with Pop-Break, Alter Bridge Vocalist Myles Kennedy sat down for an in-depth discussion regarding Alter Bridge’s heavier sound, balancing the band with other obligations, and their continual musical progress on Fortress.
Pop Break: Your new album is out now; this is your fourth studio release and there is no question, this is your heaviest album. What was the thought process or inspiration behind going in such a heavy direction?
Myles Kennedy: I think it’s just kind of where we were at creatively. I know speaking personally, last year when I was out touring with Slash, I was stockpiling ideas and there was more of that mindset for me. I was listening to heavier bands and with Mark [Tremonti], he’s always been a fan of heavy music. When we reconvened in January and started putting our ideas together, I think we were on the same page more so than we ever been on our previous records. It really allowed us to take the direction it did.
Pop-Break: You have worked with Mark and the band for almost ten years. Through all your albums, how has your relationship grown with Mark in terms of songwriting and collaborating?
MK: I think what happens after this much time, there is a certain trust that is developed and you learn to trust each others instincts. When you first start working with a new songwriting partner, you’re not necessarily sure if you have that trust and what the outcome is going to be. Once you develop it, it really frees you up and it ultimately helps the songs. The songs are what live more than anything. When you have that trust and understanding that you’re all it in for the same reasoning, which is to create the best song possible; that’s when you know it’s going to turn into a special record.
PB: Elvis Baskette produced your past three albums. In terms of your relationship, you don’t really see too many bands stick with one producer album after album anymore. How does he challenge you creatively, vocally, and musically?
MK: Elvis is great. He’s the unofficial fifth member of Alter Bridge. Going back to that trust thing, we have complete trust with what he brings to the table in terms of sonic and songwriting ideas. He does push us and we know with him, he won’t sit there and go, ‘Oh, that sounds great!’ and just candy coat everything to avoid conflict. If he feels like something is a bullshit part, he’s going to bring it up and try to make it better by motivating us to chase it down. That’s why he’s so valuable to us.
PB: With your band, everyone has other projects; whether it’s your collaboration with Slash or Mark working on his solo material. Your band does not have all the time in the world to make music. Regardless, you still find a way to pull all your time and effort into creating a catalog of songs. Fortress especially, from top to bottom, every song is so well crafted but meanwhile, your band is on a limited time schedule. How do you manage to balance that?
MK: I think some of it is just because we been doing it for so long. I feel like that helps. With songwriting, when you’re doing it a lot, it’s like you’re using a muscle, so that muscle kind of stays at a certain level and keeps the atrophy from setting in. At the same time, the fear is that you will write so many songs and you will be so creative that the well will dry up. That is always a possibility so you need to be very conscious and very careful not to burn yourself out. I’m really glad and I appreciate that you find the songs were well crafted. That is the highest compliment someone could say, so I really appreciate it.
PB: The album opener, “Cry for Achilles,’ really sets the tone for the rest of the album. It showcases what’s ahead with the crazy time signatures and intricate riffs but the melodies are still there. How do you manage to get heavier but still maintain that sense of melody so critical to your sound?
MK: That has kind of become our thing. We really try to balance those heavy riffs with a good memorable melody and hopefully a melody that will pull your heart strings. I think some of that is through years of doing it and knowing what chord progressions or sequences will work to help certain melodies breathe a certain way or what tempos will work. It is just trial and error and you do it over and over till you find what does and doesn’t work. Musically, where do you think the best canvas it to set up a good melody with? I think that’s really the secret there.
PB: I watched the Fortress preview where you sat with Mark and discussed each song on the album. In particular, the song “All Ends Well,” is a very personal song for you and you mentioned the lyrics were inspired with thoughts of your mother. If you could, can you explain what the song is about and it’s meaning to you?
MK: A lot of the things in that song were basically what my mom was telling me when I was growing up. When you’re a kid, you have a lot insecurities and fears. My mom is a strong woman and instilled a certain belief system in me and the message is to believe in yourself. So, that song is important to me for that reason and I wanted to put music on some of those mantras and some of those things she instilled in me.
PB: As the vocalist of Alter Bridge and Slash, some fans may overlook that you bring a big guitar element to Alter Bridge. In terms of guitar playing, how do you balance your playing or ideas with Mark?
MK: We write separately and then we get together. We have all these riffs, parts, chord progressions, or say, chord progressions with a melody. We play those for one another and if the other person likes it, maybe they’ll have a part that will fit with it. It’s like a sonic puzzle where you take all these different pieces and build a song that way. It’s fun and it’s a real challenging thing to do and it really keeps you on your toes. We’ve been doing it that way for quite a while now and the process continues to evolve.
PB: You tour and record music very often. In terms of keeping your voice healthy, what kinds of rituals or regimens keep your voice strong and active?
MK: I try to sleep as much as possible. It’s hard, I’m a bit of an insomniac but sleep is pretty important. Drinking lots of fluids and lots of water. Avoiding alcohol or crazy late nights. For me, warming up is paramount. I’m really into taking an hour before every show and getting my voice ready to go. The one thing is to try and avoid getting sick. That is why I probably wash my hands thirty times a day and I’m very aware of things like germs (laughs). Those are the big enemy! It’s challenging, I’m human and there are some things you just have no control over and you do the best you can.
PB: I imagine you shake a lot of hands and meet a lot of different people; it must make you a little consciousness to wash your hands.
MK: Yeah, you are definitely very aware of it and I always carry my hand sanitizer with me.
PB: Your band just played the House of Blues in Orlando, which was a hometown show for Mark, Scott, and Brian. What are your plans for touring and taking the music out on the road?
MK: We’re heading out soon for a month long tour in Europe and the U.K starting on Sunday the 13th. We’ll come back and we have a U.S. tour in the works for early next year. We’ll head out to Australia and hit some other territories as well. We’ll get out there and spread the word.
PB: In terms of technology, I know you communicate with Slash by sending song ideas back and forth through e-mail. Do you also send a lot of ideas back and forth with Mark? Technology plays a big role in your collaboration and song writing process.
MK: It definitely does. With Mark and I, not as much as Slash and I are doing at this point. Occasionally, we’ll send a memo or voice memo over the old information super highway and get a song going that way. For the most part, Mark and I put things together when we’re face to face.
PB: Nowadays, there seems to be a lost art form for bands to create full albums. They focus on hit driven singles. While your singles are great songs and grab the listener, the magic for Alter Bridge is found on the album. Your band creates full albums with great songs all across. What is your take on that?
MK: I think we’re kind of old school in that way. We still love the idea of trying to create a body of work with twelve or fourteen songs that take you on a journey. I’m personally still a huge fan of taking an LP and putting it on my turntable and going through that whole experience. We feel like a lot of our fans still gravitate towards that as well and we don’t want to let them down. Yeah, there is a new frontier where a lot of people are talking, ‘Oh, just release singles here or there and just release EPs,’ which is fine. There is nothing wrong with that but we try to be aware of what our fans want. It seems like our fans want the full album experience.
PB: With album’s heavier tone, on a song like “Addicted to Pain,” I hear a true sense of frustration, anger, and aggression. With that song or any of the other songs on the album, did you approach it with the mindset where you needed to vent and get some things off your chest? Did you look at it as a therapeutic process?
MK: Oh yeah, definitely. That’s the beauty of being a songwriter; you get to express things like that or your emotions. I feel like it helps me stay a mellow person the rest of the time because I get to work through it via songwriting. There are a fair amount of songs on this record where if you hear frustration or angst, it was definitely there and it was definitely something with legitimate emotion.
PB: With Mark growing as a vocalist and singing on his solo material. On a song like “Water Rising,” how was the experience having Mark on lead vocals while you harmonized together on the verses and choruses?
MK: It’s great and hopefully something we will do more of in the future. I think Mark has a great voice for this kind of music and our voices always blended together well. It just made sense trying to bring more of that into the mold. He always sung to a certain degree on our records but more backing vocals. I think we’ll definitely want to do more Mark Tremonti on lead vocals in the future.
PB: When you sit back now and listen to the album, are there any songs that you gravitate towards more so than others? What are your favorite songs?
MK: I really like “Fortress,” “Calm The Fire,” and “Lover.” It’s always such a hard question because you get so close to and attached to each of them because of certain things. Those are a few of mine off the top of my head.
PB: It’s like choosing between your children.
PB: In terms of the band’s growth, from One Day Remains, Blackbird, AB III, and Fortress, what do you expect in the future?
MK: I think we really just become comfortable with the idea of creating music that gets us off. We don’t worry as much about radio formats or singles. We really kind of have been liberated by ours fans because they let us know that they like the musically adventurous side of Alter Bridge, which is the funnest thing we get to do. We learn more about ourselves through the fans. Ultimately, it’s helped the band evolve.